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'Winging It

    by Stan Smith

A Little Leaven
Date Posted: August 11, 2021

I've been in First Corinthians and recently read the 5th chapter. What a chapter! You know the one. "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife!" (1 Corinthians 5:1). Stunning immorality. And Paul gives a stunning response to it.

... I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

Wow! Delivered to Satan! There is only one other reference in Scripture to such a thing. That's pretty big.

Paul goes on in that chapter to talk about not associating with sexually immoral people (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). He is talking, he says, not about unbelievers, but self-identified believers. They are the ones with whom we are not to associate if they are sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, revilers, drunkards, or swindlers (1 Corinthians 5:11). Paul tells them "not to even eat with such a one". Tough stuff.

There are a few things of note here. The first is the language there in verse 3. "I have already pronounced judgment." Whoa, Paul! Can you do that? I mean, didn't Jesus say, "Judge not"? Well, apparently he can. Indeed, apparently he's asking us to do the same ... repeatedly. "Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?" (1 Corinthians 5:12). So, whatever Jesus was warning against in Matthew 7, Paul is not doing here, nor would we be doing it if we did what he said to do. This judging is right and necessary.

Second, consider the point. Why is this important? Paul doesn't leave us to guess. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (1 Corinthians 5:6). This is the "center" of the text, the connecting line between the guy handed over to Satan and the so-called brother who you need to avoid. The reason is that ignoring this kind of sin in your midst will cause damage to you all. According to this text, "grace" is not a good thing when "grace" means "We are not going to confront those who are sinning". It is dangerous for the sinner. It is dangerous for the Church. It is important to deal with sin in the Body and to do it swiftly and decisively. If you can, obtaining repentance, of course, is the best thing. If not, excommunication is essential. Paul is not vague here. If we do not "Purge the evil person from among you" (1 Corinthians 5:13), there will be trouble.

Third, what's the point? What outcome do we hope for? I mean, sure, we do this to protect the Body, but what else is in view here? What about the evil person who has been purged? Well, we can see a hint here (and even clearer elsewhere) that the intent, after preserving the Body, is "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:5). The reason for this harsh judgment, then, is two-fold. First, the Body needs protection from the "leaven". Second, the individual sinner needs to be saved. These are the two goals of this kind of confrontation and action.

It leaves me with a question, of course. Why is this so rare today? You know, I was excommunicated once. The pastor whose church met in my house came to me and told me that Mrs. So-and-so didn't feel like I loved her because I didn't hug her enough. If I didn't repent and hug her more, I'd have to go. I didn't repent. I had to go. On the other hand, I've known church after church, large and small, who are fully aware of genuine sexual immorality and the like in their midst but do nothing about it. What's wrong with this picture? Why do churches today tolerate immorality in their midst? Do they think Paul was kidding? Are they fooled into thinking that they're immune from the whole "leaven the lump" problem? Or is it that they don't care enough about the repentance and restoration of their own people? In fact, do we individuals care enough about others in the Body to address these issues with them? Or are we content to embrace the leaven, have a nice meal, and avoid the conflict that just might save them? I don't really know the answer, but it seems to me that there's a problem here that needs to be addressed.

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Biography Information:
Born and raised in a Christian home, I've been treated to immersion in the Word and squandered it. 'But God ...' I love the phrase. God has been faithful when I was unfaithful. At every turn He has crowded me to Him.

I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.

For more writings you can see my blog at
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